The U.S. government has officially announced that we're in a recession, but for those balancing our own budgets, it's not new news. Even if you haven't been affected yet, you are probably cutting back and setting aside money to weather what may be rough months ahead.
For some, charitable giving might seem like the easiest (and first) expense to eliminate. But giving is even more important this year, and I believe you should consider increasing your efforts now instead of cutting back. You don't need to be wealthy to make a big difference in the life of someone who lives in poverty.
People on the “edges” are impacted more
People who are already struggling are impacted more by rising costs or the loss of income. You might feel like you're barely making ends meet, but chances are that if you're reading this, you are not sleeping in the back of a van with your kids (like a family I saw here in Seattle last week), or raising children in a part of the world where clean water and electricity are a distant dream and low-wage work represents your only opportunity to put food on the table.
This economic downturn is global. Around the world, the people who will be affected most are the people who are already struggling to provide the basics for their families, and the most effective way to support these families is through charities that help provide the means for them to lift themselves out of poverty. This is truly a time when every dollar counts.
I have written a lot on my own blog about why it's important to address global poverty, but here is the short version: the world's best minds cannot grow and lead the next generation if the hunger and ill-health that go hand in hand with poverty stop them in childhood.
Charities are struggling to meet basic needs
Charities run on a shoestring, doing as much as they can each year to help people in need. This year, things are particularly tough. Donors are cutting back, and at the same time, need is increasing dramatically.
A recent New York Times article stated that around the country, demand for food aid has risen between 20 and 40 percent. The food bank nearest to my own home is served almost twice as many people in November as it did in May, and is having a difficult time keeping food on the shelves. It's easy to ignore the long lines if you don't drive past them every day, but can you imagine being the volunteer who turns away a hungry family because the shelves are empty?
A chance to teach
My own children are too young to realize that we're cutting back on holiday gifts this year, but they're not too young to understand that they should help people in need. We have already started finding concrete ways to show them that they can have an impact.
This year my family will start a new annual tradition, choosing some toys at the toy store and bringing them to a local charity that provides clothing, food and diapers for kids their age.
We have also been selecting extra items at the grocery store and bringing them to the food bank. True, my kids don't always select the most nutritious donations, but getting to choose items like applesauce, goldfish crackers and mac & cheese helps them feel a connection to the people they are helping. I supplement their choices with high protein items like tuna fish, and dried beans.
Don't be afraid to get creative. You'd be surprised at how much money a grassroots effort like a bake sale or school food collection can earn, especially when your kids make a personal connection with the donors.
Give your skills
Writing a check isn't the only way to give, and it is not always the most effective. If you have a marketable skill or hobby, you can use it to help someone in need.
- Are you handy with tools? Contact a local homeless shelter or home for battered women and see whether they need help maintaining or improving their property.
- Are you a hair stylist? A good haircut can make a world of difference to someone who has just been through job training and is applying for work.
- Have a wardrobe full of business clothing that no longer fits or isn't quite
fashionable enough? Those items can be especially helpful to someone looking for a job.
If you are out of work, you might think you cannot give. Consider spending some of your time volunteering. Interviewers will look more favorably on time spent volunteering (especially if it is related to your career skills) than time that is unaccounted for.
Even better, most charities have such a great need for help, that you might even find ways to build your skill-set beyond what you accomplished for your last employer.
Work your network
Don't be shy. Spread the word about what you are doing, you'll be surprised at how many people will want to help out, sometimes in bigger ways than you would have imagined.
If you have a blog, write about what you are doing. There is a reason that marketers are reaching out to bloggers; even a small blog has influence and can make readers consider doing something new. Do you have a cause you really want to promote? Consider banding together with fellow bloggers to make a difference.
This year, some blogging friends and I rallied over 50 travel bloggers to contribute prizes towards Passports With Purpose, a fundraiser for Heifer International. We have been absolutely astounded at how much support we've received from both the blogging community and corporate sponsors in a very short time. While the fundraising effort is just getting started, it has already raised far more money than I could have hoped to donate or raise on my own.